The top story:
The tabletop ecosystem is shifting incredibly fast, and has been for the past two years. Over the next year the TTRPG business will boom as both Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer 40K venture into film. It will be a year of extreme growth and competition as new Virtual Table Top (VTTs) sites establish themselves, crowdfunding adjusts to new modes of development, and players navigate the new edition of D&D. There will be more players, more games, and much, much more money flowing into the hobby in 2023.
What we’re waiting for:
- The progression of OneDnD and its release-playtest-update cycle. It’s been getting a lot of attention and changes are happening faster than ever for the roleplaying game as Wizards of the Coast implements feedback quickly and communicates directly with the playerbase in a way they did not do in 2014 during the shift from 4e to 5e.
- What each crowdfunding site offers in terms of customisation and full-service product distribution. Kickstarter’s monopoly broke this year, and now IndieGoGo, Crowdfundr, and even BackerKit have stepped up to the plate.
- Virtual tabletop sites specializing in niche offerings to differentiate themselves from the competition, as well as creating content like actual-plays to support their digital offerings.
- As more and more workforces consider unionization, gamers will be watching to see what big companies do to support their creative and support staff.
- Independent outfits, creator-owned-and-operated companies, and co-ops will start establishing themselves more firmly in the industry, especially with the popularity of cons returning and giving them space to market themselves.
Make games, not systems. A lot of TTRPG systems have been made with the intention of being extremely accessible and flexible, but do not have a game that really makes them stand out at release. Companies want their own tentpole mechanical system so they’re not dependent from any other (like Dungeons & Dragons’ infamous Open Gaming Licence). But while I admire a lot of this innovation, I want more games. I want games that are built up around a system, or a system that is specifically designed for a game, that supports the game from the ground up.
Systems guarantee a lot of things for creators; independence, franchise opportunities, and the ability to develop a style, all of which are desirable, and perhaps even necessary, goals of adapting to the current TTRPG ecosystem. But there are a lot of systems out there that are without an organically inquisitive game to back them up, and rely on the recognisable potential of its success through a third party to gain traction. I want to see innovative new games succeed that are built on top of customised systems (which can then be adapted into SRDs), not the other way around.
People to follow
- Chase Carter — A TTRPG journalist, Chase is a considerate and thoughtful writer who is unafraid to dive deep into a text or a company culture and come out the other side with insightful criticism of a game — or a scathing breakdown of management abuses.
- Charlie C. Hall — Polygon’s tabletop senior editor has been pushing for more transformative and broad TTRPG coverage for a long time, and has helped build coverage that has range, depth, and showcases a lot of innovative work.
- Rob Wieland — The kind of person who can write about literally anything, author and designer Wieland’s interviews and coverage of established designers is always thought provoking. He makes slideshows look dreamy, and his knowledge of the TTRPG space is impressive.
- John Battle — Not only does Batts produce innovative designs and incredible games, but they also spend a lot of time elucidating on the nature of games and writing. They’re an incredible resource and their writing is fascinating and heart-wrenching in equal measure.
- Connie Chang — This list would be remiss if I didn’t include at least one TTRPG streamer, and I think that Chang is one of the cleverest and most creative out there. Their work with Transplanar and on Dimension20 has established them as one of the future voices of the craft.
- Jennifer Kretchmer — A professional Dungeon Master and disability advocate, Kretchmer has helped create a variety of disability aids for roleplaying games, including the massive D&D For All kit, which has aids and instructions for creating an accessible table for those with a wide range of disabilities.
- Jeeyon Shim — Shim’s games go from adventurous to devastating in seconds. As she pursues sustainable game design as an independent creator, she has released nearly a dozen games over the past three years, establishing herself as an innovative and fresh voice in tabletop design.
(In an attempt to make my job easier I asked Twitter for their favourite designers. This backfired on me, as had 10 times more names than I was previously considering, but you can peruse all the response and incredible designers in this thread.)
Companies to watch:
- Distribution companies like itch.io and Drive Thru RPG, and how they adjust to AI Art, privacy concerns, and creator-led innovations.
- Specialty virtual tabletop spaces like One More Multiverse, Role and Alchemy.
- Small, independent presses like Good Luck Press, Possum Creek Games, Possible Worlds Games, Rowan, Rook and Decard, and The Gauntlet, who produce innovative games and help independent creators get their work published.
- Companies that specialise in IP-to-TTRPG adaptations like Free League.
- Specialised tabletop and gaming outlets like Dicebreaker, Uppercut Crit, and SideQuest.
- I recommend everyone follow at least one or two short form TTRPG magazines. Arcadia, Nerves, Wyrd Science, and Knucklebone Magazine are some of my favourites.
- Dimension20 and all their alum — Brennan Lee Mulligan, Surena Marie, Lou Wilson, Omar Najam, and Aabria Iyengar deserve their own article, but the games, production, and talent coming from D20 is truly great.
A longshot bet:
OneD&D’s release will trigger an outpouring of new content that is completely divorced from Dungeons and Dragons as current players decide whether or not to shift to the newest edition. I hope that when this shift comes it opens space for radically different systems to upset the grip that the D20-system has on third party presses, actual plays, and convention space.
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